Smart Casual

Yesterday, in our management meeting, the topic of casual Friday was brought up again. First of all, I can’t define how the women in our office dress, but I assume its “business casual”. So, I can only speak on behalf of the guys. We probably don’t need to be dressed to the nines everyday, considering that we rarely have any customers in the office. The standard attire for men in our office is khackis and a dress shirt. So, I’m suggesting that we relax the dress code a bit and call it “Smart Casual” and allow some blue jeans now and then. It sounds like everyone agreed on “Casual Friday”, but everyone still hasn’t agreed on a “policy”, so we’ll see how it turns out. We are a business software company, so I don’t see our offices changing into the Googleplex, but this will probably be a good move. When you focus on being “professional” all the time, people tend to become less personal. In a small business, you have to keep it personal with your customers if you want to build great relationships with them.

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Freedbacking

Wired News picked upnew term created by Chris Pirillo in a Bloggercon presentation last week.  He suggested using the tag “freedbacking” when you post comments or feedback about a product or service.  I think it’s a great idea to promote the concept of public feedback that’s easy for manufacturers and developers to find, but not sure if this phrase will catch on.

Companies already offer ways for users to provide feedback, for example, through e-mail and forms. But those methods are private, giving users little sense of participation. Frequently suggestions go unheeded, with not so much as an acknowledgement or thanks from the company. As a result, Pirillo said, public feedback postings are more satisfying because they allow users to compare notes with others to see if their complaints are shared, as well as the chance to disagree and debate.

We get a fair amout of suggestions (via email, a feedback form and sometimes by phone) from our users and we’re still small enough that I can read every one.  They’re generally very brief and there’s not much (if any) follow-up other than a quick, sincere “Thanks for your suggestion” email.  It would be great to keep the conversation going in comments on their blog or find other users having the same problems by a quick search.  Of course, this requires that your users remember to tag their posts with this new funny term.

However, I think the real problem that our company needs to address is motivating our users to just give us any feedback.  Most of our users are busy running their companies and don’t typically give us suggestions unless they’re already working with tech support or if we’ve contacted them for some reason.  We’re getting 95% of our suggestions from 5% of our users.  In fact, I remember one customer suggested that we provide rewards (such as a $50 credit for other add-ons or services) for any suggestions that we turn into new features.  That’s an interesting idea, but we often get the same suggestions from different customers for features we’re already planning to include, so I don’t think that would work for us.

FreshBooks

2ndSite has changed their name to FreshBooks.  I’m pretty excited about new products like FreshBooks and QuickBooks Online Edition.  Web 2.0 apps promise a rich desktop application-like user interface, but can these products really keep up the requirements of data entry clerks that are accustomed to entering lengthy orders without looking up at the monitor?

freshbooks

We had a user complain one time about performance of our sales order entry once when entering an order with over 1,000 lines.  It turms out it was a simple problem in the code and we fixed it, but I can’t imagine that these web apps can keep up with large orders like that.  Of course, I assume that FreshBooks and QuickBooks Online Edition are targeted toward casual users that are not in the distribution business.

Zillow is awesome!

Wow!  Zillow is great!  We used Realtor.com in conjunction with our local tax appraisor’s website when we were house hunting and I’m shocked with much information Zillow gets about a property.  It actually puts a price tag on every house in the neighborhood, not the appraisal value, but an estimated market price.

They also have a cool page that shows some famous houses.  Anyways, the site speaks for itself.  Go there now and enter your address to see the value of every house in your neighborhood.

Zillow

High definition DVD confusion

I got into a quick discussion with a co-worker today about HD-DVD versus Blu-ray.  I’m not sure either format will gain too much popularity in the upcoming year, with the staggering price of the Blu-ray players and the mediocre upgrade of the HD-DVD player.  I noticed that Best Buy had a Blu-ray player for $999 and an HD-DVD player for $499.  The real problem is that most consumers don’t understand all of the technobabble and won’t understand the difference.  I think they will just buy the cheaper of the two, thinking that they’re both “high definition”.  The computer industry has added even more confusion when Dell announced that they are committed to Blu-ray and HP is supposedly going to support both standards.  However, Microsoft is adding HD-DVD support in Vista, so I’ll probably get an HD-DVD drive when I upgrade my Media Center to Vista.  Here are some good articles about the two different formats.

CNET HD-DVD / Blu-Ray guide

10 Reasons Why High Definition DVD Formats Have Already Failed

The Making of a Motherboard

I always wondered where those damaged motherboards at Fry’s came from. Of course, I’m sure they are in good condition when they arrived, but some morons try to build their computers while moonwalking in their carpeted living room. Carl Nelson with HardCOREware.net took a trip to China to show us the ECS factory in Shen Zen. Contrary to the comments on Slashdot, I was impressed with the facitilities. It looks like they have clean working conditions and they are proud of their work. I agree that the workers are underpaid, but it sounds like it’s relatively a decent job.

Small Is Beautiful

As a follow-up to my post about interruptions, Scoble posted a link to a video of Jason's lecture from the Collaborative Technologies Conference.  Anyone managing a team should watch this video, it's a great summary of the 37Signals philosophy.

http://www.collaborationloop.com/blogs/ctc-2006-jason-fried-2.htm

Some of Jason's great ideas discussed in the lecture…

  1. Keep your team small
  2. Keep your team apart or create "alone time"
  3. Have less meetings
  4. Make smaller decisions